Where did the money for Obama Gardens go?
posted at 12:15 pm on September 25, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
The Illinois Attorney General has opened an investigation into the money granted in a Barack Obama earmark in 2001 to the spouse of a campaign aide, thanks to the investigative work of the Chicago Sun-Times. When Obama challenged Bobby Rush for his seat in Congress, he tried to drum up support from the Englewood neighborhood by earmarking state money to establish a botanical garden. Despite promises that Obama would remain engaged in raising more than a million dollars, Obama lost interest after losing the election and never fulfilled his pledge for action. Now it looks like the state funds went no farther than Obama’s aide:
A $100,000 state grant for a botanic garden in Englewood that then-state Sen. Barack Obama awarded in 2001 to a group headed by a onetime campaign volunteer is now under investigation by the Illinois attorney general amid new questions, prompted by Chicago Sun-Times reports, about whether the money might have been misspent.
The garden was never built. And now state records obtained by the Sun-Times show $65,000 of the grant money went to the wife of Kenny B. Smith, the Obama 2000 congressional campaign volunteer who heads the Chicago Better Housing Association, which was in charge of the project for the blighted South Side neighborhood.
Smith wrote another $20,000 in grant-related checks to K.D. Contractors, a construction company that his wife, Karen D. Smith, created five months after work on the garden was supposed to have begun, records show. K.D. is no longer in business.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan — a Democrat who is supporting Obama’s presidential bid — is investigating “whether this charitable organization properly used its charitable assets, including the state funds it received,” Cara Smith, Madigan’s deputy chief of staff, said Wednesday.
Eighty-five percent of the funds wound up going no farther than the pockets of Obama’s campaign volunteer. Chris Fusco and Dave McKinney track down the contractor who supposedly got most of this funding to find out what happened. He told the Sun-Times reporters that he only was asked to cut down a few trees and to grade the surface of the park, which would have been overpriced at $3,000. So what happened to the other $82,000? No one knows, and the Smiths don’t have any explanation.
Smith had connections to Obama for at least four years prior to getting the money from Obama’s earmark:
The relationship between Smith and Obama dates to at least 1997, when Obama wrote a letter that Smith used to help the housing association win city funding for an affordable-housing development near the garden site. Plans called for more than 50 homes; a dozen ultimately were built.
Let’s look at that closely. Obama assisted Smith in getting city funds for 50 units of affordable housing in or near Englewood. Despite getting the funding, Smith built less than a quarter of the units he promised. Based on that track record, Obama earmarked another $100,000 in taxpayer funds for Smith, who once again failed to deliver on a project.
Even if Obama didn’t deliberately participate in an attempt to pay off a volunteer with taxpayer money, what kind of judgment is that? And what does it say about Obama that after promising to “work tirelessly” on this project, Obama didn’t even bother to notice that only about $3,000 worth of work got accomplished from a $100,000 grant?
Too bad the national media has sent dozens of reporters to Wasilla to investigate Sarah Palin and so far have come up with the hugely scandalous tanning bed that Palin bought for herself, using her own money. Perhaps they could have spared one or two to investigate the Democratic nominee at the top of their ticket and found more than just a little sunshine to blow up the electorate’s rear end.